Making The Old -- and The Good -- New Again

By James Parrish Coleman -- a/k/a Jimbo Coleman

A later edition. Early Editions had a white

spine, and ads for long extinct local business.

Gulf Coast Gourmet was compiled by my late mother, Jane S. Coleman, in the early 1960s. The book was a fund raiser for the Foley Woman's Club.

The illustrations are the original work of a very talented artist named Marion Dyer. The book has been in print for many, many years; but has the simple fault of assuming you know about Gulf seafood and really know how to cook. I'll cook through the book (and my childhood), explain how Jane Coleman cooked, and tell a lot of family stories in the process. I like to cook. I will share what I have, and hope you like it. That's the spirit of this blog. Bon Appetit.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Greatest Salad In The Western World

Bayley's West Indies
Mr Bill Bayley invented this dish at the
 place that bears his name. It is still there
and still good! Eat there today! It is your

duty as a lover of good food.
The name invokes some tropical isle, palm trees and languid Frenchmen taking their ease on Martinique, Montserrat or St. Bart's or some other place with an equally exotic name.
The source I remember is one of a number of south Alabama seafood restaurants that sported the best seafood anywhere. Bayley's still survives, at the corner where Mr. Bill Bayley started a grocery store many years ago. The two-lane road to Bayley's was no tropical paradise, but West Indies Salad is the contribution of a food genius. I've got to claim bragging rights for my mother: Websites claim that the Junior League of Mobile first published the recipe in its cookbook in 1964.

 Gulf Coast Gourmet published it in 1961. So there!

(For more on Bayley's See )

This is one of the best dishes in the cookbook. Make this for parties. It is a wonderful first course. You will fall in love with this recipe.

Bayley's Seafood Restaurant is a rare survivor.  Other authentic seafood joints of this kind are only a memory ---Palmer's and the original Blue Gill on the Causeway, Meme's in Bon Secour, Nan Seas on Dauphin Island Parkway and the original Mary's Place in Coden, Ala. (A darn good replacement Mary's, owned by a fellow from Louisiana, is still going.)
Ed's is not a survivor of the old days, but a
reincarnation of the great old seafood joints.
Yes, they have lots of drinks, live music and
servers in logo T-shirts (things you'd never
see in the old days), but the fried seafood
is as good as the old joints ever were.

There was my hometown favorite, The Magnolia Cafe in Magnolia Springs. (I think that was the name, but the place was known simply as "Blanche's" after owner and cook extraordinaire, Blanche Weeks.)

The seafood in these joints was fried -- and excellent. Fried seafood is easy to cook poorly and hard to cook to perfection.

These places and the food they prepared were the identity of seafood cookery on the central Gulf Coast. They are mostly gone now -- replaced by "Crab Shacks" and mega-stores with cute names and institutional seafood.

Today's  seafood Mecca, Bayley's, is still in there and still in business. Its founder, Bill Bayley, made a contribution that had nothing to do with heat or grease or a dutch oven. It is nothing but crab meat, chopped onion, salt, pepper, oil, vinegar and ice water. That's it. Learn about the man who invented the dish at
Me pouting over
getting in trouble
at Bayley's 

I remember going with my mother on lots of her trips to collect recipes. I was five or six years old when we made the trek down the road to Dauphin Island. Bayley's was (and is) about half way to the Island. I was sick of riding in the 1959 grey Mercury when we arrived, and got a little impatient at Bayley's restaurant. I remember my tiny mother talking to his huge guy who owned the place. Try as I might, I could not interest either of them in my contributions to the conversation. I don't recall the particulars, but I know I got in trouble! I did not appreciate the fact that Mama was paying more attention to Mr. Bayley than she was to me.

After I ate the salad for the first time, I understood why she ignored me. This was not the last time I got in trouble over this dish. Before a ladies lunch at home, I hit the bowl of salad in the ice box a little too hard. You should not leave Bayley's where little kids can get to it -- and not expect them to eat it.

Oyster Bay Baptist Church on Plash Island.
 The Plash family knew it all about picking and selling
 crab meat. They operated Plash Seafood on the island
for many years. The late "Hoopie" and Janie Plash
built a fine business and built a lot of the church. 
The family had great seafood, and the very best 
crab meat. Hoopie was one of the smartest
and best men I ever knew. The whole bunch are 
some of the finest people anywhere. 
They also knew a lot about crabs! 
Cold crab salads reveal a truth about crabs (click on the tab above, marked "CRAB"). They are sold alive, frozen or cooked. There is no middle ground.  Crab meat in the plastic containers is the cooked meat picked from the crab, and must be kept cold. The crabs are caught, kept alive, boiled and the meat is picked out by hand. It takes a lot of work to produce crab meat.
 The lid of the container will be marked "Jumbo Lump," "Lump," "Claw" or "Cocktail Fingers."
The Jumbo Lump crab meat consists of huge lumps of white crab meat. It is a luxury, and very expensive. Lump -- which is what I use here -- consists of smaller chunks of meat and will work fine. Claw meat consists of little flakes of crab meat that are best left to gumbo. Cocktail fingers -- awful name -- are crab claws with shelled meats attached. They are superb fried or sauteed, and not bad right out of the container.

If you can't find crab meat locally, get in touch with a source right down the road from Bayley's. Zirlott name in the area. The family has a seafood business and a very informative website. They will ship anywhere.

Do not attempt to make this dish with canned crab meat. Is will not be good, and the ghosts of Bill Bayley and Jane Coleman will haunt you.

Crab meat must be kept cold. It is a natural for cold salads.

Let's cook -- 
"Do not substitute any of ingredients as result would not be the same."

There is no cooking to do here. Just assemble the ingredients and put it in the ice box. Easy. It is also one of the best dishes in the cookbook.

The recipe also includes my hands-down favorite sentence in the book. "Do not substitute any of ingredients as result would not be the same."

Jane Coleman and Bill Bayley are not kidding, either. A cruise through the Internet will show a few variations on the recipe shown above -- don't try them. This recipe is so simple, and so wonderful. Don't change anything. Don't do anything other than what you're told
My comments on how to prepare this dish are in red

Ice Water, Apple Cider Vinegar, Wesson Oil
and the recipe. 
I don't hesitate for a second to change up something if I don't have an ingredient, or if I just like something else better. Here, do yourself a favor. Leave it alone. Bayley's West Indies Salad -- just as it is...

Do exactly as the recipe above says. Do not change the kind of vinegar or kind of oil. Don't try to use olive oil, or walnut oil, or almond oil or baby oil or motor oil --- do and use just what Mr. Bill Bayley told us to use! Don't try to use canned crab meat. Don't try to use the cheaper claw meat. Don't use anything but cider vinegar. Finally, don't try to make and serve it all at once. The dish needs four hours at least, and is best with about eight hours in the ice box.

Chop the onions, but don't make them too tiny!
I like them about the same size as the hunks
of crab meat.

First a layer of onions

Next, a layer of crab meat
Another layer of onions..

Pour on the Oil, Vinegar and Ice Water in that

Next week -- The best thing in a sack since $100 bills.

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